CHARLOTTE, NC (Fred Clasen-Kelly/The Charlotte Observer) - Four months after Mecklenburg County's health director resigned amid investigations into poor patient care at two clinics, officials have hired a familiar face to help overhaul the agency.
Alma "Gibbie" Harris, interim director of the Health Department, has been named to the permanent post, the county announced Tuesday. Harris, who starts Oct. 30, will make $180,000 a year.
Harris has spent parts of her 25-year career in government as health director in Buncombe and Wake counties. She worked with Mecklenburg for several months as a consultant with Praxis Partners for Health before she was hired as interim health director in June.
"This is a huge step in the right direction," County Manager Dena Diorio said in prepared statement. "She has experience in all divisions of the public health system and knows the challenge Mecklenburg County is facing to improve."
The job instantly makes Harris one of the most influential figures in local government. Her agency is charged with wide-ranging duties such as protecting the public from communicable diseases such as HIV, inspecting restaurants and pools and providing nurses for schools.
She will oversees roughly 800 workers, a $72 million annual budget and health clinics on Beatties Ford Road in west Charlotte and Billingsley Road in southeast Charlotte that serve the poor.
Harris replaces Dr. Marcus Plescia who came under public scrutiny in February when the Observer first reported that the agency failed to notify at least 185 women about their risk for cervical cancer following abnormal Pap smears.
Reports from two consulting firms and the county's internal audit office detailed major problems under Plescia's leadership. Criticism included workers failing to put accurate information in patients' files, patients enduring unacceptably long waits for appointments and other lapses in care.
The reports recommended sweeping changes to management, saying that top leaders and supervisors failed to hold employees accountable. County officials have acknowledged it will take years and millions of dollars to fix the problems.
In a prepared statement, Harris pledged to try to restore the agency's credibility.